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Exploring Stones River Battlefield on the Driving Tour

During our family road trip in Tennesse, we took a step back in time and learned about how the Battle of Stones River fit into the broader Civil war story. The story pits two equally matched armies against one another, at a time where both sides needed a victory.

While not as famous as Antietam or Gettysburg, if you are a Civil War buff or just interested in American history, this site holds a captivating story. This site deserves a few hours of your time to learn about its role during this pivotal moment in American history.

Table of Contents

Driving Tour Overview

The driving tour the best way to get up and personal with the events of the battle that occurred at the end of 1862. It is one way driving route that takes you to six different locations, which tells the story of how the battle transpired. At each location you can call a number to get an audio guide of the specifics of that portion of the battle.

Driving Tour Stops

  • Stop 1 – The Eve of the Battle: Off of McFadden Lane and tell of activity before the battle
  • Stop 2 – The Slaughter Pen: The bloodiest fighting occurred here, a confederate attack on the union’s right flank.
  • Stop 3 – Struggle for Nashville Pike: The union held the position to preserve their only means of retreat on Nashville pike.
  • Stop 4 – Holding Fast: The Pioneer Brigade and Chicago board of trade battery, brand new recruits, held against three waves of confederate attacks.
  • Stop 5 – Hell’s Half Acre: Round Forest, where Col. Hazen held the Union line against four waves of attacks.
  • Stop 6 – McFadden’s Farm: – Site where union artillery pushed back the advance of Gen. Breckinridge.

Hell’s Half Acre

We made the mistake of pulling into stop number 5 of the driving tour before getting to the visitor center. Don’t do what we did! Make sure to go to the Visitor Center first to get a good overview before you venture out.

This was actually a key location, showing the only location on the Union line that held their position on the first day of battle. It also is the location of the oldest intact Civil War Memorial, erected only six months following the battle.

Roaming Monk Tip: The driving tour has a really informative audio guide. Just dial the telephone number on the sign and indicate your location.

The Stones River visitor center is easy to find and was well positioned to communicate the events of the exchange at the end of 1862 and the New year of 1863. The Visitor Center has a nice bookstore next to the main lobby that enters into the site’s exhibits. The exhibits seem to provide a fairly comprehensive overview of the events leading up to, including, and after the engagement.

Entrance Sign at Stones River National Battlefield Visitor Center

Did you know that the largest Civil War Fort/encampment was on this site? It engulfed the local area around the current park, and included all the major roads that are around the site. I can see how a this was needed as after the battle this site was the main staging area for the advancement of Union forces into Georgia.

This also shows how hard it is to preserve the history of these Civil War sites. As you drive around you will see the encroachment of developments all around the area.

Stamping location

The National Park Passport stamp is located in the lobby on a little wooden table. It is really hard to miss, so don’t forget to pick up a free souvenir of your visit.

National Park passport cancellation stamps are a great, no cost, low impact way to commemorate a visit to one of our National Parks. We have an entire article dedicated to explaining the program and how to get the most out of it.

See if you can find this neat Bonus Stamp at the stamping station as well!

Bonus Stamp of Calvary Running Stones River NB

After visiting tour stop 5 and then the visitor center, I made another wrong turn as I thought the tour route was a two-way street.

Make a note, the driving route is ONE WAY and starts at the corner of McFadden Ln. and Park Rd., taking a right turn out of the visitor center. The tour does put the battle in contact of the landscape, with the final stop commemorating the pivotal moment of artillery support on the last day, bringing the battle to a final conclusion.

McFadden’s Farm

Sign at an angle for Stones River National Battlefield McFadden farm
Truck facility across from McFadden farm At Stones River National Battlefield

Note for the last stop, the turn is a bit hidden, and the road runs next to a truck distribution center. Be prepared to maneuver around some big trucks as you head toward the site.

If you wonder why the site is so close to a distribution hub, there is an informational sign that gives some context and background. After the war, a railroad CEO/Owner leveraged his position to make visits to the historical sites easy, providing stops and even brochures advertising the locations.

Sign and monument at McFadden farm at Stones River National Battlefield

All told, the park was a nice visit where you can easily spend 2 hours getting a grasp of some Civil War battlefield history. Note, if you are looking for a simple and non-flashy mini golf experience, head to GO USA Funpark. It will give you a cheap, but interesting experience that is about 10 min away from stop 6.


When did the Battle of Stones River Take Place?

The battle took place from Dec 31, 1862, through Jan 2, 1863.

How many soldiers fought in the battle?

The Confederate army had 34,700 men under the command of General Braxton Bragg, while General William Rosecrans commanded 41,400 Union troops, which clashed at Stones River near Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

How many people died in the battle?

Union losses numbered 12,906 while Confederate casualties totaled 11,739. This was a staggering number of losses and amounted to the highest casualty rate of any battle in the war (3.8% killed, almost 20% wounded and 8% missing or captured), even more than Shiloh and Antietam.

What is the significance of the Stones River?

While tactically the battle can be considered a draw, it became seen as a Union victory, as it provided control over Tennesse and with it, a much-needed boost in morale in the North.

This was important, as Abraham Lincoln issued the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation in September, and needed solid victories to support the official signing on Jan 1, 1863.

How long will it take to visit?

The time to fully see the entire battlefield site would take at least a half day, but I could see almost a full day could be spent. We took a little over 2 hours, and were able to see a fair amount, including the visitor center, over half of the driving tour and the artillery position at McFadden’s farm.

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